As car companies, tech firms such as Google and ride-sharing giant Uber continue to pour money and resources into self-driving technology, a large unknown is how the Trump administration and its new Transportation Secretary will approach autonomous car regulation. With so much at stake, companies investing in self-driving technology are eager to learn whether the new administration will continue the course set by the Obama administration on regulation and investment in autonomous cars.
They received an early if vague indication when Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao spoke Sunday at a National Governors Association meeting and gave her first major public remarks on the subject since taking office last month. “This administration is evaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders as we update it and amend it, to ensure that it strikes the right balance,” Secretary Chao said, according to Reuters.
As part of that balance, Chao expressed concerns about negative public perception of self-driving technology. “In particular, I want to challenge Silicon Valley, Detroit and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technology,” she said.
A recent report from Deloitte found that nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers believe fully autonomous vehicles aren’t safe and they also don’t have confidence in car companies to make self-driving vehicles foolproof. A survey by AAA last year also revealed that three out of four U.S. drivers said they are “afraid” to ride in a self-driving car, although AAA also found that drivers who own vehicles equipped with semi-autonomous features are 75 percent more likely to trust the technology.
At the 2016 Detroit Auto Show, former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the DOT would make a “10-year, nearly $4 billion investment to accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects.” This was followed last fall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) releasing the first-ever federal guidelines on autonomous cars, which included a 15-point safety assessment that’s intended to be part of a formal rule-making process.
The guidelines also included policy for states to follow in order to avoid a patchwork of regulations across the country to address concerns by driverless technology developers that some states could set up individual rules and require their own safety checklists. Some in the industry have called on Congress to ease certain safety standards that don’t apply to traditional automobiles, such as requiring a vehicle to have a steering wheel and brake and gas pedals, arguing that it could impede innovation.
The auto and tech industry generally hailed the guidelines a good first step and felt that they were flexible enough for future improvements. NHTSA also made clear its intentions to annually update the blueprint.
Chao didn’t reveal much on the USDOT’s future course on self-driving car regulation and investment. But she acknowledged that “there’s a lot at stake in getting this technology right,” and added that the administration will be “a catalyst for safe, efficient technologies, not an impediment.”
Originally published by Forbes.com